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May 31 unveiling for million penny Holocaust memorial

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I would like to extend an invitation to all residents of Groton and Dunstable, on behalf of Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School Principal Steve Silverman and the members of the “What Is a Million?” school enrichment program, to join us in a special celebration on May 31 from 1 to 3 p.m. as we celebrate the culmination of our two-year-long pennies project.

On that day, we will unveil and dedicate a memorial to the children who were murdered during the Holocaust. The memorial will be located inside the middle school south building, adjacent to the entrance of the Performing Art Center. It will consist of a huge, clear, acrylic container that is 6 feet tall, 5 feet long and 2 feet wide and will contain 1.5 million pennies — each penny representing a Jewish child’s life taken during the Holocaust. A commemorative plaque will be hung on the front of the container.

The day will celebrate the end (or is it actually the beginning?) of a remarkable journey begun in January 2006, during the eighth grade’s study of the Holocaust, when they learned that over six million Jews were among the 12 million total who perished at the hands of the Nazis during that horrendous period. One and one-half million of those murdered were the Jewish children.

We will begin the day’s activities at 1 p.m. with a ceremony in the Performing Arts Center. The ceremony will include remarks by the students who have been involved in this project as well as comments from some very special guests — including very special donors to the project — as well as Holocaust survivors.

This project was inspired in part by the students’ viewing of the award-winning documentary film “Paper Clips,” which was written, produced and co-directed by Joe Fab. The documentary told the story of a group of middle school students from Whitwell, Tenn., a mostly white town like Groton and Dunstable, whose study of the Holocaust lead them to collect six million paper clips to understand the concept of how many Jews were killed during that tragic period.

Parent Amy Degen had seen the film and knew she wanted to have it shown in Groton. In addition to having eighth grade students view the film during an assembly at the middle school, Degen also arranged for the film to be shown for community residents at the Performing Art Center and at Groton School. The film’s producer, Joe Fab, spoke with residents after both community viewings of the film.

When I recently contacted Joe Fab to let him know that we have finally reached our goal of encasing the pennies in a permanent memorial, he wrote:

“To my friends at Groton Dunstable Regional Middle School… About two years ago, you and your school opened your doors and your hearts to me. Nothing has dimmed my memory of my time with you. In fact, I’ve traveled to many schools since then and often speak about my visit to Groton. What do I say?

“Well, I tell them that your school is home to young people who are not just members of the Groton student body, not just players in the local community. I tell them that you are citizens of this planet. I announce that about you in a strong, firm voice. And I don’t mind you knowing that I say it with tears of pride in my eyes.

“Nothing gives me greater encouragement or a more profound sense of hope than students like yourselves. You’ve looked beyond the distractions around you– XBoxes, iPods, Web sites, the mall — and focused on the bigger picture: The humanity that connects us all. As Maya Angelou says, ‘We are more alike than we are unalike.’ You’ve perceived that truth, and you’ve acted on it. And therein lies the possibility of a better world.

“It is often said that after Hitler and the Nazis themselves, the most to blame for the horrors of the Holocaust were the bystanders: Those who knew, but did nothing. Through your project, you’ve declared that you are not bystanders.

“And here’s the big news: You can never go back to being unconscious; you can never go back to claiming ignorance as an excuse for inaction. And that big news is good news. Because you’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. You are citizens of the planet. I’m counting on you, we’re all counting on you, to keep doing what you’re doing. Stand for compassion, stand for justice think big! And change the world.” — Joe Fab

My friends, there is still some work that needs to be done. We need to unwrap many rolls of pennies in order to place them into the container. Members of the Groton Woman’s Club have already volunteered to help. If you would like to help us unroll the pennies and place them into the container and join other community members in lending a hand in the completion of this permanent memorial, please contact Amy Degen at (978) 448-0281 or e-mail amyhope@charter.net. If you are interested in obtaining tickets to attend the program, please contact Kim Flanagan at (978) 649-7985 or e-mail kmjflanagan@verizon.net.

Please join us on Saturday, May 31 at 1 p.m. in the Performing Art Center and be a part of this special day as we honor those children lost in the Holocaust and pay tribute to our children of Groton and Dunstable who have worked so hard to memorialize them.

NIKI ROCKWELL

“What Is a Million?” Advisor

Groton-Dunstable Middle School

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